Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
A Diamond in the Rough Superstitions
First Water Creek has its origins in the Superstitions and is a major drainage. This will be evident as you observe recent levels obvious by large amounts of debris high on the banks and in the trees. Caution should be used during stormy conditions. Watch for flash flooding. A GPS unit is a great help on this hike to keep you in First Water Creek.
This adventure begins at the horse trailer lot, the first large parking area on the left a couple miles east of SR 88. There is a rest room in the parking lot. Hike east on the road about a hundred yards, to an old jeep road which heads northeast marked "Police Vehicles Only". Take this trail which will lead you down hill by the old remains of First Water Ranch. Continuing past the ranch a trail swings south. At this point the bushwhack begins. Find an opening in the fence, cross into First Water Creek and head north in the creek. Pick and choose your route and follow the creek over smooth rock often pooled with water. As the canyon closes in the boulders get bigger and the cliff sides draw your curiosity to the enclaves and balanced rocks. The creek makes a slight turn to the northeast and you can locate a trail on the right bank. Following this for a short distance brings you to an open area, nice for camping. Hackberry Spring is on your right at the base of the rock face. Hackberry Spring is a reliable source of water year round and is tapped with an iron pipe.
Continue your hike now, heading north but do not follow the foot trail. You want to get back in First Water Creek and head north. Stop and look back occasionally and catch the views. Several Natural Arches(windows) are located on this hike. After several hundred yards, the creek rock hopping gets increasingly hard and you can pick up a trail on the right bank but when the trail veers northeast from the creek, move back into and stay in the creek bed on your left. Hopefully you have a GPS which clearly shows if you are in First Water Creek. From this point on its all creek rock hopping. Many will draw a comparison to Boulder Creek or Upper Fish Creek Canyon hikes. This is on par with those two hikes for scenery but not as difficult or long. The creek meanders north offering spectacular rock formations and views second to none the Superstitions have to offer. Soon a mountain resembling the Matterhorn comes into view. The mountains ahead of you are towering, getting bigger and more colorful as you proceed downstream.
You will encounter some side canyons, that beg for exploring ,intersecting from time to time. If there is water running its easy to determine First Water Creek. Go with the flow of the water. If you look at the side canyons all flow into First Water Creek, headed for Canyon Lake. If the side canyon is going up in altitude, you took the wrong route. The Canyon gets tighter and tighter narrowing to perhaps thirty feet in width with towering cliffs on either side. Arches and House sized boulders are plenty but easy to navigate. Eventually the canyon opens up and THIS WASH ON YOUR LEFT IS YOUR EXIT to return to civilization. At GPS coordinate - N33 32.028 W 111 26.876 - there is a huge rock dead center in the creek bed. You may notice a rock cairn on the right side of this rock(notice because there have been no rock cairns the entire trip). Look at the left bank of the creek at this point. There is a large lichen covered rock on the left bank with a large rock cairn on it also.
You can continue down First water Creek at this point to explore but in less than a half mile you will come to Canyon Lake and the only way out is to have someone pick you up in a boat or swim to the first one way bridge located at Canyon Lake. So, return after exploring to the aforementioned coordinates and start up the wash to the west on the left side of the wash. In about a hundred feet you will pass thru the Wilderness Boundary fence and cross over to the right side of the wash. A few rock cairns will now guide you out of the canyon as the trail crosses back and forth thru the wash up. A short way up you will see power lines and perhaps a car passing on the Apache Trail. As remote as you feel on this trip, in reality you are only a few hundred yards from the Apache Trail the whole time. Unfortunately your wilderness experience is almost complete. Although, there's plenty of daylight left, why not make the return trip. If, however, you are going to call it a day continue to the top and you can catch your ride or shuttle set up in advance because you come out to the pavement at exactly milepost 208, where there is room for several cars to park. Look back to the east at what some people refer to as the "Little Alps".
A special note-in all but the driest time of year you will get wet on this hike. In the narrow gorges you should plan on navigating some waist deep water for a short distance.
Right now seldom seen but destined to be a Superstition Classic.
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WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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